Last night our baby Boy 3 woke at 3.30am. And as such I am feeling tired. He has done it a few times lately but I know why. He is hungry. At almost five months old, and with rolls of fat to be proud of, I think I may need to wean him soon.
But when I have discussed this with a few people lately, some have look confused. They don’t seem to understand that it is unusual for me to wake in the night with a baby. “What do you mean ‘he woke in the night’. Doesn’t he always wake in the night? He is a baby.”
And these reactions have made me realise that as parents my husband and I seem to have cracked something pretty special. We have found the holy grail that is ‘sleeping through the night’. This has happened with all three of our boys: one bottle-fed and two breast-fed babies.
Lucky aren’t we?!
And that got me to thinking as to whether or not this is luck. Yes, perhaps we were fortunate when Boy 1 slept through at 6 weeks old; then we were lucky when Boy 2 did the same; but when Boy 3 slept through at 7 weeks (having been born 4 weeks prematurely), I think there may be more to this than luck.
Now this post is not about gloating. I am not writing this to ‘one-up’ other mummies or to make them feel crap and inadequate at their babies’ sleeping regimes. That is definitely not my style. But since there are not many things that I do right as a parent, I feel that this one is worthy of a blog. I hope that in sharing my ‘expertise’ I may help other parents to achieve sleep nirvana.
But firstly a public warning – I am not really an expert! I have not researched this topic (unless you count reading Gina Ford’s Contented Baby book ten years ago and thinking she was a fruit-loop!), this is just based on what I did. Nor do I claim that what I did will work for anyone else. It may not. It may be that I am just lucky after all. But I have had three babies, and they have all slept through the night from 7 weeks old (barring the nights where they may have been teething or ready to wean or poorly), so perhaps some of what I have done may be worth considering.
Finally, before I impart my gems of wisdom, let me clarify something. This really is ‘sleeping through the night’. There is no 11pm dream-feed cheating going on! There is no ‘put them to bed when you go to bed, then they will sleep when you sleep’ antics. This is genuine 6.30pm – 6.30am sleeping through the night. I know! Amazing aren’t I?!
Tip 1 – Establish night and day with your baby as early as possible
(Okay – I may have nabbed some of this one from Gina Ford but my way is different – it is about their clothes!)
Having read about ‘establishing night and day’ with your baby, having black-out blinds yadda yadda yadda, I thought about what I did at my bedtime. What do I do at night-time that differs to the day? And the answer was ‘clothing’. At night-time I wear pyjamas. Warm and snuggly pyjamas. And in the daytime I wear normal clothes (thankfully I have not yet needed to resort to wearing my pyjamas to do the school run!) So I decided to make that same distinction with my babies. And whilst sleepsuits look so cute on young babies, I have mostly kept them for night-time attire. During the day, I have dressed my boys in T-shirt and joggers or cute dungaree sets – outfits that more like our daytime clothes. Outfits that are perhaps not so cosy and snuggly. Now I do understand that my babies are not geniuses. They probably cannot make the distinction for themselves between day and night clothes. But something about the feel of the clothes or just the changing of outfits morning and evening seems to have helped signal that distinction between night and day. Or at least that is my line and I’m sticking to it!
Tip 2 – Tank them up with milk!
Three hourly feeding – pah! I don’t think so!
Having chubby babies meant that three hourly feeding was like torture to my children. Boy 1 taught me that with his angry ‘feed-me’ scream, that would occur no more than two hours after his previous bottle!
His tummy was still too little to take on board large amounts of milk in one sitting, but his size meant he needed more. So I threw away the rule book of bottle feeding and fed him when he really screamed. And then breast-fed Boy 2 and 3 were also fed on demand, and sometimes there was less than an hour between feeds. Shocker!
And the trick is to do this in the afternoon. Allow the feeds to be closer together as you head towards bedtime. If they are hungry, let them have milk.
So by the time you reach bedtime, their tummies are nicely full and able to go for a longer period throughout the night.
Tip 3 – Have a bedtime routine
Even from a couple of weeks old, I believe this can make a difference. Our routine consisted of bath, (optional) book, bottle/breast and bed. Every night. Yes, a bath every night! I know that skin specialists and baby experts may say not to do this, but it hasn’t done my boys any harm. In fact, following numerous ‘poo-up-back’ nappy changes during the day, it seemed odd not to bath my babies every night. My boys all loved their bath time. And they still do. Bath time isn’t play time in our house. It is functional. It is calming. It does not take hours. Perhaps just ten minutes. But it does signal wind-down
time. And that seems to help them to sleep.
(Extra tip – try Johnson’s bedtime bubble bath. It smells lovely. And it may have helped Boy 1 and 2 to relax and go to sleep. I haven’t used it with Boy 3 as he is chilled out anyway!)
My boys still have that same bedtime routine every night, even now, at ages 7 and 10 (except for the bottle/breast bit – that would be weird!)
Tip 4 – Don’t dream feed!
‘Dream feeding’ is the name given to that 11pm feed that some parents give their babies, even when they haven’t asked for it. It involves waking a sleeping baby (eeek – no!) in order to feed them just before you go to bed.
So why didn’t I ever do this? Well firstly, I had heard the ‘don’t wake a sleeping baby’ advice and rather liked it. Babies look so peaceful and cute asleep so why disturb that? And Boy 1 slept so badly for the first fortnight there was no way I was messing with him when he finally did stop screaming and sleep!
But more importantly, I wondered how you would know when your baby no longer needed a dream feed? How would their body clock know when it was ready to sleep through, if it has been falsely fed at 11pm?
Whilst initially it means you risk going to sleep at 11pm to then be rudely awoken at 11.30pm when your baby needs a feed, that feed soon slips back. To midnight. Then perhaps 2am. Then 4am. And then one day you realise it is 6am and your baby hasn’t woken in the night to feed. They have slept through! Legitimately, no cheating necessary, sleeping through! How would that have worked with a dream feed?
Tip 5 – Ignore them!
Okay – I don’t totally mean ‘ignore them’. They are babies after all. But I do believe we sometimes go to our babies too soon at night. Some people pick up their baby at the slightest movement or murmur. Or at the cute awake-gurgling. Or baby chatting. And of course when you go to your baby in the middle of the night, they see you, smell you and then want your attention. And they won’t go back to sleep til they have it.
When you or I wake in the night, we do not then wake our partners for a chat and get up. We lie there for a while. And often, we will close our eyes again and drift back off to sleep. Experience has shown me that this is true of babies too. I have learnt this the ‘naughty’ way. You know when your baby stirs or chats and you and your partner both pretend to be asleep in the hope that the other one with deal with it? And five minutes go by and you are both still holding firm and refusing to leave your warm bed? And then the baby stops making a noise and goes back to sleep! Yes, it really can happen.
So whilst I am not saying to ignore your baby if they are genuinely upset and crying in the night, perhaps just wait a little longer and see if they really do need you, or if they will settle themselves back to sleep.
Tip 6 – Ignore them (again!)
This time I am referring to when you have actually got your baby out of bed in the middle of the night because they are crying and need a feed. Now is the time again to ignore them! Don’t make eye contact! I know this is really hard to do, and it is, since you just want to grin at them, talk nonsense in your baby voice to them and engage them, but DON’T. If you just change their nappy and feed them, whilst making as little eye contact as possible, they will get bored, stay sleepy and hopefully go straight back to sleep after food.
So that’s it! My words of wisdom. My ‘how to’ guide for getting your babies to sleep through the night. It has worked for me. Three times. And I hope so much it works for you. Because sleepless nights suck! They are like torture. In fact sleep deprivation was still a form of ‘humane’ torture until 2009! And life as a parent is hard enough without sleep deprivation to add into the equation.
Try out some of my tips, or all of them. They may help. Or they may not. It is free advice so you haven’t lost anything if it doesn’t work! But here’s hoping…
(Feel free ask more questions of me, if you have them. Or share some of your tips for others to see in the comments section on my blog. Sleep guru – at your service!)